Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why 1440 Is the New Diamond

In our twenties, we had a pretty interesting circle of friends. We were all married, 20-something, and with plenty of disposable income for countless dinner dates, movies, trips, etc. I'm sad to report that 100% of those friends are divorced, save my wife and I. We've actually moved on to other circles, where we are happy to report marriages are much more stable.

So, many times, during those divorces, we were asked, "How do you and your wife do it? What is the secret to remain together for so long (nearly 17 years now)?"

The fact of the matter is, it's not that complicated. Marriage is not 50/50, at least not any given moment. If you think it is -- or worse -- if you force it to be, you will head down the road of separation pretty quick. Maybe, at the end of a day, span of time, or an entire lifetime, it is a "collective 50/50," but at any given moment, one spouse is doing way more than the other.

Don't believe me? Keep tract of yours, if you are married.

In our case, we keep things real and we set parameters that work pretty well.

Where is this going?!

Well, that pristine formula might have come to a crushing end at about 7 p.m., April 27, 2009, in our formal living room, right in front of the piano. One of our most prized possessions -- especially for my wife -- rests on a side table. It's a custom lamp, which incorporates two Home Interiors porcelain figures, a custom made base and a hand-painted shade. I have since learned they -- the procelains -- are Home Interiors #1440 and #1441.

The porcelain is not Lladro, and won't pull thousands of dollars on the market, at least I don't think it will. What that lamp did have is a lot of thoughtfulness from my wife, a brilliant interior designer. Those two figurines were a memory of our wedding until the male, the elusive #144o, fell to it's destruction at the tap of my size 11.5 running shoes. Everyone (who has been to our humble abode) knows our house has not a stitch of carpet. It's all cermaic tile, wood floors and a few rugs. So, when the #1440 landed head first on the ceramic tile floor, it had no shot in hell of survival.

Yes, the event had it all: tears, head resting on her palms, defeat, and lots of silence. Even the girls and my dog, who witnessed the event, hugged me knowing my life as I knew it was over.

See, we have an understanding. There are items so precious to her, I stay a regulated 10-20 feet away. Such is the case for some of my most prized possessions. NO ONE sits on my Notre Dame chair; she can wash my baseball and football jerseys, but they DO NOT go in the dryer; I buy a new Cowboys cap to begin a season, which nobody washes, wears, touches; and my mini College World Series bats cannot be used to air drum. You get the picture.

Protection of our prized personal property is akin to protection given the Shroud of Turin.

I know. What does it matter? We have the economic crisis and a killer virus.

Well, it does.

The #1440 Home Interiors figurine has survived 7 apartments moves, 3 house moves (twice across the state of Texas), and multiple children's' parties, where kids have run dangerously close to the famed lamp.

This fine day, as we were headed out to buy landscaping flowers, I bumped it ever so precisely. Such a minuscule moment in time. Such a lasting effect.

Since then, I've found #1440 on the Net. Ebay, of course. I lost the first auction. I'm on the prowl for another.

Good attorney soon? Probably not. But, I'm into her for many, many favors to make up for the loss.

Pray to the gods of accidents for me.

**Since I wrote this, I have been able to glue most of #1440, except for a big missing piece on the top of his head. I'm not sure that'll fly.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Come To You in the Name of Jesus!

Last night I was called to duty shortly before the zero hour. I had just positioned myself perfectly in bed, ready for a good night, when the call came.

As I headed to the office, I exited the freeway, and at the traffic light, there was a vehicle stranded. Hood up. People seemingly distressed.

Two disclosures:

1. I grew up in the mecca of people on the street hustling for money (border town), whether their stories were real or not, odds were not good. We rarely gave out money freely, though we were always happy to give a meal and/or a day's work for "earned money."

2. I'm not too keen on people employing terms like, "I come to you in the name of Jesus!" I'm not even keen on athletes pointing to the sky when they have accomplished a fine deed on the field. Granted, I'm glad an athlete displays faith, I just don't think they need to credit the Lord for a double to deep center field. Pacquiao (boxer) is a devoted man of faith, and prays very boldly in his corner to begin/end a fight, but he didn't point to the sky when he mauled Oscar De La Hoya to retirement.

So, it was a couple -- man and lady -- stranded. It was not the man who came rushing to me at the red light, proclaiming, "I come to you in the name of the Lord! Is there any Christian who will help us?" It was the lady. Not only did she rush to my door, but she was consumed with a cigarette of choice, exhaling the Lord's name, along with the remnants of her "fag" (see English slang word for a smoke).

In a guarded manner, I rolled down the window. For some reason, after midnight, this red light will not change. I've often thought somebody's booby-trapped it for lonesome drivers at night. Anyhow, though she's coming in the name of Jesus, she might also be packing heat. I had no clear view of the man in the vehicle. For all I knew, I might be about to meet the Lord at the hand of these late night evangelists.

I was dressed in a suit and tie. Yes, we still make house calls in full suit. On my windshield was my Garmin, where I had input the address I was headed. My vehicle is nearly new, and my disposition is usually gentle.

In this woman's view, there should be no reason I cannot help her.

Red light continues to hold firm, and the same Jesus in whose name her gait announced, is the one I implored for a green light. Wonder how He sees these prayers/petitions?

But, I don't carry much cash, if any at all. I was in a hurry, as my destination was not close.

"Sir, I'm not going to hurt you. In the name of Jesus, we need help. We're supposed to be at Cook's Hospital, but we're in the wrong one."

Smoke comes out of her nose and mouth, and while usually this would have angered me enough to close the window (I don't care if you smoke, just don't blow it in face), I actually didn't mind it this time, in the face of this horrible virus. I figured this was the one time toxic fumes actually benefited my close-range contact with the evangelic lady.

Red light holding on like a champ.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry..."

"But we need your help. We just need some gas money to get to Cook's in Dallas! Please, is there any Christian love anymore!"

More smoke. Light seems to shine a brighter hue of red.


"Please sir, lend us a Christian hand!"

"Ma'am (now irritated my voice was) I am a mortician. On call. On the way to respond to a death! I don't have any cash. I'm sorry."


She backed up and had words with her man, who never made a showing to my door. I'm sure the announcement of my professional career path shocked her enough to cease her request. Finally another vehicle approaches. And, just as I was about to run this light and get on with my evening, er morning, the light shines green.

I'll never know what the real story with these people was. I suspect they ran out of gas and didn't have a dime to their name -- for gas anyway. As my associate and I were returning on this path about 10 minutes later in the company vehicle, I saw the same scene, this time from the other side of the freeway. A large truck was stuck on the eternal red light, but there was an exchange of some sort between the driver and -- this time -- the man.

I guess I wasn't Christian enough. Or, I just plain didn't buy their story. Or, I didn't have any cash. One thing is for sure. That I'm aware of, there is no other Cook Children's Hospital, certainly not in Dallas. They're not as cool as us Fort Worth-ians.

For now I'm just glad I wasn't a victim of the Midnight Evangelists, who might have been violent and/or trying to jack my car. I'm always left with a hint of guilt, wondering if someone really needed help.

The feeling quickly dissipated. By the end of the night, we had helped another family, who lost a loved one. We traveled a distance, putting ourselves at the mercy of the night's mysteries. And though my associate and I didn't audibly announce we were there in the name of Jesus, we are men of faith and hope for the best.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm sorry, but I can't get out of the car?!

Routine hump day in the Chicken Fried Nation.

So, we settled on salads today -- the ladies in the office and I. There's a quaint little place, in a newly developed area in Fort Worth, where they sell overpriced salads easily made at home.

Nevertheless, I offered to go get the salads for one reason: I like to drive by a new bar, which posts new thoughts on their sign every week. They're usually brilliant, at the very least very entertaining (see picture).

Well, as I parked near the salad place, I noticed two ladies leisurely walking away from their vehicle, a rather new and expensive SUV. They were chatty and ready to ingest whatever fare they like from this joint.


Well, as I parked my vehicle, I noticed a third member of the lunch ladies club still in the vehicle, but something was wrong. Way, very wrong!

She was frantically pulling, hitting, kicking, and screaming at the door. Think of your favorite cheesy horror movie, and surely there's scene somewhere of a beautiful woman trying to get out of something, possibly a car, before she gets the machete, drill bit, or weapon of choice in her head and blood goes everywhere.

Except, this was broad daylight, in a well populated, fairly urban zone. And, if there was any suspect in this scene, it was Yours Truly. Had I not been enthralled with my Blackberry, I might have noticed that.

Well, I finally did notice the lady. As I got off to see if I could help, she started to honk the horn frantically. I turned to see the other two in the lunch party, and one said, "What is she doing?"

So, they started to walk back toward the vehicle and the owner clicked the clicker. The mad hostage lady finally got out and, first, apologized to me. For what, I'll never know.

Second, she said almost in tears, "I couldn't get out!" The other two started to chuckle and then it became a full-blown laugh.

What I never understood was that the hostage member of the three-way ladies lunch party was in the front passenger's seat. That I'm aware of, they don't have child locks. Second, even if the car had been locked via the keyless entry, you can usually override it by pulling the car door lever.

But, I don't drive a vehicle, whose MSRP is about $67,000 either. So, maybe there's kinky things about these bad boys no one has informed me about.

One things is for sure...

5:1 odds that lunch conversation had many "I was like" sentences in it. And, the calorie count was sub-150.

As I picked up my order, the hostage lady was outside on the patio. She looked up again and said, "I'm sorry."

I'm still confused.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The TOT Tournament. Buy-in is $10,000

The picture was in a recent article in the Star-Telegram. It probably shouldn't bother me -- the problems of others -- but this particular problem does. I can't help it.
If you "Wiki" Mr. Hicks, it states he has a financial worth estimated at $1.3 billion. Google has a satellite picture of his $28 million mansion, one of several residences, I'm sure.
In simple terms, the Star-Telegram article states Mr. Hicks and his sports firm (HSG), which includes majority ownership of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, is $525 million in the hole with the juice still running. In fact, he has officially defaulted on loans, missing a $10 million quarterly payment purposely until he "restructures debt."
I was telling my mother the other day I find playing poker surprisingly refreshing. As expected, she was aghast. No, wait, horrified is more like it. For those that know my mother, the reaction is par.
But, it's true.
I find it refreshing to find honesty in whatever way I can.
Poker? Honesty?
Think about it. In the game of poker, the economy is simple. You bring cash and trade for chips with the dealer. You sit at a table and invest/save your chips on every hand against other players, who play with the exact same rules. Some players will have much, much more experience. Others will have a lot of luck. The basic principle is this: if you know how to play the game well, you will have a legitimate shot at millions of dollars.
The main event at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is a no-limit Texas hold 'em event, where the buy-in is $10,000. Yes, a lot of money, especially considering the fact that there may be 6,000 or more players in that event alone. In order to have a shot at the grand prize, a seven or eight figure purse, you must outlast thousands over a several days.
The 2008 champion is a kid (I can say that now) from Denmark, aged 22. He banked $9 million and first prize.
Real money. A real, legitimate shot at making it big.
For many, comparing poker to real-world finance is, well, heresy. Wealth is a result of hard work, education, etc.
Yes, those things matter (even in poker where most champs spend countless hours playing hands). But, Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers takes exception to the norm, too. In it he explains many of the wealthiest people in world were, well, lucky.
What if (work with me here) baseball teams were up for prize every so often -- say every four years -- to people who won a tournament. Say the MLB suddenly changed all the rules and said, "Baseball fans of all walks can now buy into the Team Ownership Tournament (TOT), where the buy-in is $10,000. The grand prize: your MLB team of choice. You get to own and manage that team for four years.
Are you laughing yet?
But, wait, that's exactly what happens in poker rooms. You have the initial investment (buy-in). You're in. Education? Many hands of poker at home or online. Investment strategy? Fold when you don't have it. Raise when you do. Management skills? Don't donk your chips, and don't fall into a tilt (emotional whirlwind, where players lose most or all their chips 'cause they get pissed). Anything else? Oh yeah. Bluff in key areas to keep your fellow players on their feet.
See, most of us view the rebels of the world as "weird." When I see a lady clinging to her man, clad in leather and tats on a Harley on the road I think, "Wow, what did that dude do/say to convince his lady to wear a tank top and ride behind him on the road?"
I may actually admire that man more than a man like Tom Hicks, who poses as an example of success, but defaults on loans for his alleged assets.
I promise you if I default on my car loan, my bank will not have the courtesy it has for Mr. Hicks.
And, if you saw a picture of Tom Hicks and Chris Ferguson side by side in The Wall Street Journal, first, most would not know who Chris Ferguson is. Second, because he wears his hair long, a cowboy hat and goatee, he'd be categorized as some gambler unworthy of accolades from such a respected periodical.
What you don't know if both of Ferguson's parents have PhDs in mathematics, as does Ferguson in computer science. He just chose a different way of making use of his talents.
Dammit, the point...
It's getting harder and harder to view the world conventionally. No, I'm not suggesting we should all become gamblers and run to Vegas, or that we should buy Harley's, tank tops for our brides and take to the road with no helmets, although the visual is still tempting.
What I am suggesting is there is a lesson to be learned in a hand of poker.
Mr. Hicks, make the payment. You have the money. The people of the Chicken Friend Nation and the one lonesome Rangers fan in El Paso want to love our baseball team. But, when we read the team is broke and its owner is screwing around with its finances because he can, we get pissed.
Fold, raise or go all in. Something, for the love of God.

The Best Fighter


The last time we joined forces at my home to enjoy a little sample of pugilism, we -- the Mexican faction -- were embarrassed. Oscar "The Golden Boy" De La Hoya got the heck knocked out of him by a man they call, The Mexicutioner. Manny Pacquiao was relentless. And though the fight was a "friendly," that is, was not a title fight, the case is not such on May 2. We are expecting this next one to be good, real good.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Martha Stewart-esque Lunch, Finger-eating Grub Worms, and Unidentified Orange Objects

We -- my wife and I -- had the unique opportunity of joining our daughter's first grade class on a field trip this past week.

I'm not what you would call congenial. In fact, at first sight, most have two thoughts about me: he's mad or he's mad. I just inherited a gene from a long line of pensive, inquisitive people that I can't quite shake.

But, to know me is to think TOTALLY different -- at least they say --, especially after enjoying some cool beverages of choice.

Anyhow, certainly, with children, I'm not a big hit. In fact, last year at the school's field day, a day resembling summer olympics, a friend of my daughter caught me making a joke and laughing, to which she hurriedly turned to her mother and said, "Look mom, he does laugh!"

Yes, I felt (feel) bad and do what I can to be less "pensive" and more congenial.

Nevertheless, I enjoy hanging out with kids in this setting. I'm helping out the teachers, but I'm not totally responsible for them. It allows me to relax and observe.

The biggest enjoyment I get from kids is their innocence and simplicity with which they see the world. Yes, today's kids know way more than I did, but the innocence still dominates. And, things like field trips are just the greatest thing since apple pie for them! It's great.

So, the field trip was to the local botanical gardens, in addition to a show of some sort (live) in a local venue. We arrived in earnest, sack lunch and all, ready to ride the big yellow bus with 17, er 34, eager kids.

So, we walked around the gardens, taking in the Spring's offering in many colors. Though it was a bit windy and cool for this area, nothing of great consequence happened in our walk or during the show.

We did, however, miss lunch at the pre-scheduled hour, as we were not allowed to eat at the botanical gardens. So, by the time we made it back to school (around 2 p.m,-ish), everyone was famished, certainly the kids.

Well, we immediately broke into lunch. Most of the kids had the expected lunches: sandwiches, chips, packaged things that resemble food, etc. There was one exception, and she inspired me to write this piece long overdue.

I have since nicknamed her Martha Stewart. When she opened her sack, she had the following items: a package of tuna (yes the fish), some bread, mustard, mayo, and some sort of drink. She promptly and efficiently commenced to make herself one of the best looking tuna meals I've ever seen. Not only was she deliberate and quick with her tiny fingers, but she attracted the attention of those around her. Yeah, that packaged stuff that should be food (her neighbor had) couldn't hold a stick to lil' Martha's fine entree -- all at the tender age of 7.

It's not an event that will change the world, but it is a memory I will carry with me forever. Who knows what life will bring this lil' girl, who for now is my daughter's classmate. Rest assured, though, I'll remember lil' Martha and her fine meal as long as I can.

For her, that day ranks pretty high. It was a day of exciting traveling and fine dining. Oh to be a child again, a world were tuna, yellow buses and fire drills is hard to beat.